Ten North Frederick Summary
by John O'Hara

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Ten North Frederick Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Ten North Frederick begins with the death of Joe Chapin, the novel’s main character. The date is April, 1945; Joe Chapin has died and his wife, Edith, has begun to receive sympathetic calls from her husband’s close friends, business acquaintances, and political associates. From this starting point the novel begins to review Joe Chapin’s life and all the people who were a part of it, shifting back in time as far as 1881, to the marriage of Joe’s parents. O’Hara’s goal in using this technique is to construct a composite portrait of life in Gibbsville, Pennsylvania (an imaginary city based on O’Hara’s actual experiences in Pottsville, Pennsylvania), and it is not until the very end of Ten North Frederick that readers can fully understand that portrait. It is only at the end of the novel, for example, that O’Hara reveals that Joe has died of cirrhosis of the liver. By the novel’s end, readers learn how Joe’s political ambitions have been totally ruined; his marriage is a basically unhappy one; his two children, especially his daughter, Ann, have failed to establish any clear direction in their lives. Reacting to all of this, Joe drinks himself to death.

On this level, Ten North Frederick presents a study of the futility of one man’s life, as O’Hara shows that wealth and aristocratic social status cannot shield individuals from personal misery. On a deeper level, however, Ten North Frederick presents O’Hara’s general view of American life in 1945. The street on which the Chapin family lives, Frederick Street, once represented the most desirable residential area in Gibbsville. As O’Hara describes it, however, in 1945 Frederick Street is no longer fashionable; the homes on North Frederick (including the Chapins’) are quickly becoming monuments to a passing way of life (as the moneyed classes of Gibbsville move to a different section of town, Lantenengo Street). This kind of progress is not portrayed as positive in Ten North Frederick . In tracing the fortunes of the Chapin family, O’Hara presents a view of an evolving American society that is, at the bottom, tawdry. The people in Joe’s class enjoy material wealth, but such comfort provides an...

(The entire section is 562 words.)